From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
Every year during October, Mental Health Month is held. It is based around World Mental Health Day, which was first celebrated in 1992, as an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members and contacts in more than 150 countries. World Mental Health Day falls on 10 October every year and is now promoted internationally by the World Health Organisation.
The day, and the month, offers a way of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world through government health departments and civil society organizations across the globe. The WHO says that “World Mental Health Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide
This year, the theme for World Mental Health Day is Making Mental Health & Well-Being for All a Global Priority. The hope is that focussing attention on the mental health of people will result in a better general awareness in society as well as improvements in services offered. In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that one in eight people globally were living with a mental disorder. So this is a much-needed focus on a long-established matter. See https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/mental-well-being-resources-for-the-public
Certainly, the years of the pandemic have exacerbated short- and long-term stresses, undermining the mental health of millions. As mental health services were disrupted by restrictions and lockdowns, so the treatment gap for mental health conditions has widened. The need for ongoing attention to providing good mental health support is even more evident.
In NSW, people are being encouraged to Tune In this mental health month, with resources providing Tips to Tune In (practise self-compassion, take time to rest, notice your boundaries, connect with friends) as well as tips for a less-stressed workplace and colourful posts for social media, to spread awareness of the month. See https://mentalhealthmonth.wayahead.org.au/downloadable-resources/
In the ACT this year, the theme for the month is as simple as A—B—C: namely, Awareness—Belonging—Connection. Awareness is about understanding how to maintain and boost our mental wellbeing, realising when we need to reach out for help, and knowing where to get it. Belonging is about looking out for each other, feeling safe and supported, and knowing that we’re not alone: there are others going through the same thing. Connection is about our relationships: not just with our friends, families and those we care about, but also the groups, clubs, and networks we rely on to help us stay happy and healthy. See https://www.mentalhealthmonthact.org/
Loneliness is one significant cause of mental health issues. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that most Australians will experience loneliness at some point in their lives. 1 in 3 (33%) Australians reported an episode of loneliness between 2001 and 2009. 40% of these people reported experiencing more than 1 episode. In surveys undertaken since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, just over half (54%) of respondents reported that they felt more lonely since the start of the pandemic. See https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-welfare/social-isolation-and-loneliness-covid-pandemic
Friendship, care and support is something that the church can offer to people—especially to people who are experiencing loneliness. A supportive community can help lonely people to strengthen their mental health and have a more positive life. It’s something that every local congregation can easily do. Look around in your community; who are the lonely people? How can you offer them friendship and support? How can you live out the Gospel by giving compassionate care to such people?
For some further personal reflections on mental health day, see the blog by John Squires at https://johntsquires.com/2022/10/10/world-mental-health-day-10-october/